Mackinac Center Legal Foundation

City Officials Fine Resident For Renting Out His Private Property Through Airbnb

Michael Dorr owns a beautiful cottage in Saint Clair Shores. Like many young entrepreneurs, Dorr recognized a need in his community and decided to fill it. This need was for safe home rentals at a reasonable price.

The Issue

What started as a way to earn extra income quickly turned into an opportunity to help businesses in his community thrive. "My house guests would shop at local businesses and the owners really liked that,” Dorr said. Unfortunately, not everyone thought his business made a positive contribution to the area. In spring 2017, Dorr was issued a citation and fined $150 by a district court for renting out his home through Airbnb.

While no law explicitly forbids home sharing in St. Clair Shores, attorney Robert Ihrie claimed that Dorr's businesses violated the city's zoning ordinances. Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, argues that the zoning laws in the city do not prohibit home sharing and that the law is silent on the matter. "The city attorney seems to be taking the position that anything that the zoning laws do not specifically allow, is prohibited. But using this logic, if you paint your house beige, and the city code doesn't say specifically that it can be that color, then they can fine you $500 or put you in jail for up to 90 days. That is the opposite of how the law is supposed to work. You cannot be punished by the law unless what you are doing is clearly prohibited" said Wilcox.

On Sept. 12, the city of St. Clair Shores filed a complaint against Dorr, and the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has decided to represent him in the hopes that the case will establish a precedent that will help protect all homeowners from invasive government overreach.